Award winning film director Steve McQueen appealing for every London primary school to take part in Tate Britain photo exhibition

PUBLISHED: 17:00 26 March 2019 | UPDATED: 18:21 26 March 2019

Steve McQueen. Photo: © John Russo

Steve McQueen. Photo: © John Russo

Archant

School photos are a rite of passage: a snapshot in time of bad hairstyles, gappy teeth and that hideous experiment with the blue eyeliner that went on for far too long.

Steve McQueen�s Year 3 class at Little Ealing Primary School, 1977. Steve is seated fifth from the left in the middle row. Photo: TateSteve McQueen�s Year 3 class at Little Ealing Primary School, 1977. Steve is seated fifth from the left in the middle row. Photo: Tate

The uniform colours might change but the composition is so formulaic you could literally just stick your child’s face on top of a stock image and circulate it to the wider family to stick on a bookshelf somewhere (but of course you wouldn’t).

For as common as school photos are, they somehow manage to capture individuality, a feeling that at this point in a child’s life anything is possible for them.

It is hope in a photoframe and by almost creating a standardised image, you highlight the differences of each child – the uniqueness of each cog in the factory of the education system.

It is this sense of “limitless possibility” and “individuality” that made Turner Prize-winning artist and Oscar-winning filmmaker Steve McQueen embark on an exciting project with the Tate Britain art gallery.

Year 3 class at Little Ealing Primary School 2018. Photo: � TateYear 3 class at Little Ealing Primary School 2018. Photo: � Tate

He hopes to take a photo of every Year 3 class in London and display the photos in an exhibition.

The real beauty of the project is not just making children feel important, worthwhile and valued (which is enough of a reason in itself) but the contradictions and talking points that the director is creating.

The photos are also filled with a palatable tension – the act of capturing a still photo contrasted with the moment of their future decisions and choices.

“Seven is a point in a child’s life where they are becoming aware of their surroundings,” he said.

Year 3 class at Mayflower Primary School, Tower Hamlets 2018. Photo: � TateYear 3 class at Mayflower Primary School, Tower Hamlets 2018. Photo: � Tate

“It’s a time before innocence is lost, before they realise their place in the world and how they fit into it – they have no responsibility they play and learn.

“I wanted to capture that moment in time, to show that all these children have the same start and can go on to do whatever they want to.”

Mr McQueen had the idea for the exhibition after looking through his own Year 3 class photos.

He started to wonder what happened to some of his former schoolmates who were suspended in time in coloured pixels on photographic paper.

Year 3 class at Mayflower Primary School, Tower Hamlets 2018. Photo: � TateYear 3 class at Mayflower Primary School, Tower Hamlets 2018. Photo: � Tate

“I wanted to do this project so children can see they are special and important and they are hung on a wall in a gallery (not just in a living room).

“At this point they have every possibility at their feet.

“They can be prime minister, a pop star, builder, bus driver, lawyer, teacher.

“Whatever, whoever you are the possibilities are infinite.”

Year 3 class at Little Ealing Primary School 2018. Photo: � TateYear 3 class at Little Ealing Primary School 2018. Photo: � Tate

Mr McQueen said the exhibition is not just for the children photographed and their families but for society as a whole.

It tells a “bigger, broader story” about how important they are and is a picture of the “future of London”.

So far 1,600 schools have taken part in the project and the Tate team are keen to include every school in the capital so that no one misses out.

“This is such a powerful project that shows that everyone has choices,” he added.

“There have been cuts to arts in education and art is about possibilities and about ‘what happens if’.

“It is not just about pen and drawings it’s about play and experimenting.”

A spokeswoman for the Tate Britain added: “From November 2019 to May 2020, the Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain will be taken over by a vast installation of the photographs, free for all to visit.

“It will be a celebration of the tens of thousands of young people who will make London their own in years to come, and a meditation on the social forces and personal developments that shape our lives.

“Artangel, who are renowned for producing extraordinary art in unexpected places, will also create an outdoor exhibition of class photographs across each of London’s 33 boroughs, giving passers-by a glimpse of the future of their city.

“Tate Modern will then stage a major survey exhibition of McQueen’s work to coincide with the project, open from February to May 2020.

If any parent or school wants to take part in the project visit tateyear3project.org.uk for more information.

The cut off date for taking part is Friday, April 5.

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